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Vanessa and Virginia

3.33  ·  Rating Details ·  419 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
"You see, even after all these years, I wonder if you really loved me."

Vanessa and Virginia are sisters, best friends, bitter rivals, and artistic collaborators. As children, they fight for attention from their overextended mother, their brilliant but difficult father, and their adored brother, Thoby. As young women, they support each other through a series of devastating
Hardcover, 213 pages
Published May 14th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2008)
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3.5 stars

“Written as a love letter and an elegy from Vanessa Bell to her sister, Virginia Woolf, Vanessa and Virginia is a stunning portrait of sibling rivalry and an imaginative triumph.” - according to the blurb on the back cover.

This novel is written by someone who knows the history of the Stephens family and who has clearly done her research. From Vanessa’s letter we get a good overview of the family history, of the rivalry and friendship between the sisters, of their insecurities and their
Jul 20, 2010 Patti rated it really liked it
I thought the point of view using I as Vanessa and you, Virginia, was an interesting way to tell the story. I watched The Hours a few years ago, but I would like to see it again with this fresh on my mind. I did not know very much about either woman. I read a little online after finishing the book. Most of the events seemed to be pretty much historical.
May 13, 2009 Sara rated it liked it
In Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers, Vanessa succinctly summarizes her relationship with her legendary sister, Virginia Woolf: “I might struggle against the call, I might even try to quell it, but my existence was not separate from yours.” The novel tells of the sisters’ childhood as they cope with a rash of ugly deaths and develop their talents. It then follows them as they marry, reproduce, and negotiate their fame and obscurity. It discreetly touches on depression, incest, and suicide wi ...more
Originally I thought this was supposed to be from Vanessa's and Virginia's points of views and it was supposed to alternate back and forth. Then I re-read the description and discovered it was only supposed to be Vanessa speaking. Much less confusing now. But because of this initial confusion, I felt like I was totally lost, so at 60% finished with the book, I decided to start over. Clearly this will take longer than usual.

The language is beautiful, lilting and lyrical. I think that's why I was
Ana Mardoll
Feb 26, 2011 Ana Mardoll rated it really liked it
Shelves: ana-reviewed
Vanessa and Virginia / 978-0-151-01474-3

Not knowing anything at all about the lives of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, I approached this novel with some minor trepidation, concerned that I would not be able to follow the narrative in any meaningful fashion. I could not have been more wrong, for this deeply lyrical novel is both accessible and gripping, haunting the reader through to the final pages.

Written in an intensely beautiful, highly personal letter, Vanessa writes at the end of her life
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell were sisters, conspirators, and rivals: one was an outspoken writer, married but childless, while the other was a painter who kept her emotions to herself but was a devoted mother and (sometimes hopeless) lover. Sellers tells their story from Vanessa's point of view, in a series of letters addressed to Virginia after her river suicide in 1941. She describes events from their childhoods and on throughout their lives, touching only lightly on each event as Vanessa r ...more
Oct 04, 2011 Amanda rated it did not like it
The writing in this book intentionally mimics Virginia Woolf's stream of consciousness, redolent with imagery style. I am not sure I would have gotten much out of it if I wasn't already quite familiar with the lives of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and their associated circle and able to pick up on the events and people referenced.

I really could have done without the suggestion of incest between Vanessa and Virginia. I do not believe that the historical record convincingly indicates this ever
Mary Johnson
Sep 03, 2010 Mary Johnson rated it really liked it
This writing and imaginative retelling of the story of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf was gorgeous. I enjoyed how the author played with possible sources of inspiration for some of Woolf's work. And the portrayal of sibling rivalry rang truer than any I've read recently. But--not the author's fault--this is a depressing story. I had to read it in little pieces, because I couldn't take the intensity of the sadness--something Vanessa and Virginia had trouble with too. Certainly not a biog ...more
Laurie Griffiths
Vanessa & Virginia tells the strange and moving story of Vanessa Bell, painter and elder sister of Virginia Woolf. Though it's beautifully set against fascinating backdrop of Bloomsbury, it's actually a fictional account, told as a kind of memoir or diary written by Vanessa, exploring the strong affection and fierce jealousies between herself and her sister.
Vanessa's struggles as a lover, mother and artist make for a powerful, unpredictable and extremely moving read. And the writing is beaut
Andrea MacPherson
Jul 22, 2013 Andrea MacPherson rated it really liked it
This novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf's relationship is something like an impressionist painting--told in lyrical vignettes, moving back and forth across time. The novel focuses on Vanessa's life, her art, her lovers, her children and, at its core, her troubled relationship with Virginia. They compete, they love one another, they are each other's best friends and worst critics.

Sellers made a wise choice in having Vanessa as her narrator: she is able to reveal Virginia and her well-kno
Feb 10, 2014 Terri rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
It takes a few pages to realize this is Vanessa's story not the more renowned Virginia Woolf. The story is written in first person to Virginia so the sentences are like: "Your hand is on my arm. I have forgotten you in my musings. I pull back the bedclothes and make room for you. We lie shoulder to shoulder, comforted by each other's presence. You clear your throat and begin." I found that a bit distracting to the telling.

You must already know things like, Virginia Woolf committed suicide. She l
Sep 14, 2009 Lianne rated it it was amazing
I'm very fond of the Bloomsbury group period so love biographies and any representation of the group members. Virginia, is, of course Virginia Woolf, and Vanessa is her sister Vanessa Bell.
Using vignettes portrayed from Vanessa's point of view, the author explores their close but competitive relationship. Their bohemian lives seem generally unhappy but they both have a strong drive toward expressing their individual creativity that matters more than anything else including husbands and children
Feb 08, 2012 Shelley rated it really liked it
This is a stunning novel that illuminates the lives of the Bloomsbury Group as perceived by painter Vanessa Bell. The honesty of her revelations concerning her relationship with her sister, Virginia Woolf, is heartbreaking and lovely at the same time. The author paints amazing word pictures to convey the sisters' emotional closeness juxtaposed with their competitiveness. And I am again fascinated with the exploration of the creative process, in their case pertaining to writing and painting.
Jul 25, 2009 Christy rated it really liked it
Brilliant, talented, and competitive, Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell and her famous sister Virginia Woolf have always been friends and rivals. Here chronicled in Sellers' languid, lyrical prose is the impressionistic tribute Vanessa pays to her sister, containing the memories and moments that constitute a shared life. Bursting with sensuous colour and ripe language, this is a book to delight the senses, and to savour.
Jan 13, 2010 Meg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
I enjoyed every page of this rich novel of vignettes, told from the (fictional) point of view of Vanessa Bell, to Virginia Woolf, in elegy. I did not care for the very last sentence, but that feeling stands in sharp contrast to my reception of the rest-- evidenced by several dozen dog eared pages, which I marked in order to savor all over again. I see a good many negative reviews on Goodreads and I'm surprised by that.
Jul 25, 2011 Carol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
This book is a biographical the same way as The Paris wife. Susan Sellers has taken research of the entwined lives of sisters Virginia Wolffe and Venessa Bell and worked it into fiction. It was very reminiscent of Virginia's writing style in To The Lighthouse. After reading this I want to read other books from that time period. I have a book called Love in Bloomsbury which I think I will reread.
Apr 03, 2012 zenbren rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
This story (albeit denoted as fiction) depicts the lives and relationships of the Bloomsbury set sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Wonderfully written through the eyes of painter Vanessa, it is a gripping novel and provides a shrewd insight to the hearts and minds of these strong yet vulnerable and flawed women and those who flitted through their lives and loves.
Oct 25, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
Before reading Priya Parmar's book Vanessa and Her Sister I knew very little about the Stephen family and the Bloomsbury Group. I had read many books by Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. I recognized the names of Roger Fry and Vanessa and Clive Bell, and knew that Lytton Stachey wrote Eminent Victorians. John Maynard Keynes I knew was an important economist. But I had never studied them. I requested this book from NetGalley hoping to learn more.

The story is presented through the fictional pages
Sep 11, 2015 Katja rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-finnish
Firstly, the book is much more about Vanessa than Virginia, which isn't a bad thing but blurb etc. give an impression it's equally about both.

I think the book is quite beautifully written, it consists of short scenes, almost like pictures. They are in chronological order but the passage of time is very blurry.

But there's a problem: it'd be nice little book if it wasn't about real people. It tells a few things about Vanessa but very little about Virginia, and if you don't know about their lives b
Jul 12, 2013 Keri rated it really liked it
This is a great read. Instead of reading Virginia Woolf as genius, we get to read her as the annoying little sister, from Vanessa's perspective. We also get insight on Vanessa's paintings. Vanessa is a rich character with insecurities about motherhood, being an angel in the house, and being a lover.
Susanna Rautio
Vanessa Bell ja Virginia Wolf - mikä kaksikko. Susan Sellers on kirjoittanut heistä sielukkaan kirjan. Vanessa on minä ja Virginia sinä. Vaikka moneen vuoteen ei ole minää ilman sinää, ärsyynnyn kuitenkin hieman siitä, ettei kirjan nimeksi riittänyt vain Vanessa. Kyllä Vanessalla oli oma elämä ja se oli kiinnostava ihan itsenään!

Mutta ei ollut naisten elämänä helppoa sata vuotta sitten, ennen ja jälkeen. Ehkä siksi Virginian Oma huone oli niin hieno manifesti - siitä ei puhuta mitään tässä kirja
May 06, 2016 Emmett rated it really liked it
Glimmering and impressionistic, every bit the descendent of the light but feeling touch of sisters Woolf and Bell. Like the sisters, Sellers shows that lightness too has its own weight, tugging the heart chords from start to finish.
Terri Pickett
Apr 06, 2013 Terri Pickett rated it really liked it
An interesting read. This is a fictionalized (but well-researched) account of the relationship between sisters Vanessa Bell, a painter and Virginia Woolf. The writing was beautiful and moving, if at times difficult to follow.
P.d. Gourlais
Jan 03, 2013 P.d. Gourlais rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An imaginative piece of fiction! Sellers brilliantly captures the spirit and essence of Vanessa Bell. It is nice to see her character step out of Virginia's shadow and into a light of her own. As an artist, I admire this work.
Mar 29, 2012 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel, a beautifully written imagining of the lives of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, is both tender and poetic in its intimacy. A lovingly crafted homage from a talented scholar in the field.
May 31, 2016 Mirte rated it liked it
This book hung about my book case for a good year and a half, and I vaguely remember finding it on a massive book sale event for a few euros and taking it home, liking its premise of filling in Virginia Woolf's life. And then, Susan Sellers turned out to be a lecturer on my MLitt programme and I recalled having this book. Which is why I finally read it!

The start was a bit slow. The novel is written from Vanessa's perspective, in a style loosely resembling stream-of-consciousness. Since these are
Aug 01, 2009 Laurel-Rain rated it it was amazing
A powerful and in-depth portrait of the artistic spirit. For the full Amazon Vine review, click below:
Julie Blind
Jun 23, 2010 Julie Blind rated it really liked it
Interesting book about Virginia Wolff and her older sister. Kind of depressing, but gave great insight into them and the unusual life they lived.
Jul 21, 2015 Elif rated it liked it
This was a nice read.
Een derde sterretje voor de vele mooie zinnen in dit boek. Het verhaal zelf stelde wat teleur... ondanks de persoonlijke insteek - de fictieve memoires van Vanessa Bell - bleven de zusjes wat afstandelijk en kon ik mezelf nergens betrappen op enig ingeleefd medeleven. Jammer, toch?

'Ik kijk op van het papier en probeer terug te blikken door de stegen van het verleden. Ik vind het nu onvoorstelbaar dat we die tijd hebben overleefd. Alleen aan jou zou ik iets durven opbiechten van wat ik toen voel
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Susan Sellers is an author, editor, translator and novelist and Professor of English at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
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